Righteousness is the quality of rightness or justice. It is an attribute of God. As a result of Original Sin and the Fall, man is corrupt and lacking in righteousness (Rom. 3:23) and is also incapable of making himself righteous (Rom. 3:19,20). In justification, man is declared righteous through the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, when he has Faith (2Cor. 5:21). In sanctification, man is progressively made righteous in character and conduct (1John 1:7-9).
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The Hebrew word regularly translated "righteous" or "just" is saddiq and originally meant "straight" or "right." The corresponding Greek term is dikaios, and in Greek society referred to that which is in accordance with law or social norm. The noun forms are sedeq (or sedaqa) and dikaiosyne. The verbs sadak and dikaioo mean "to do justice," "to be just," "to vindicate," or "to justify" in the forensic sense of "declare righteous" or "treat as just."
This emphasis on the righteousness of God in the form of salvation should be understood within the context of God's covenant relationship with Israel. God by his grace made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants, and his righteousness is seen in his faithfulness in keeping that covenant (I Chr. 16:16-17, 35; Isa. 46:9-13; Jer. 33:25-26). The covenant does not make sinful Israel immune from divine judgment, but after chastisement God delivers his people and thus reveals his righteousness (the lesson of the Exile). God justifies his covenant people, declaring them righteous, not because they have perfectly kept the law, but because (or on the condition that) their repentant hearts trust in him and seek to keep his covenant (Gen. 15:6; Pss. 32:10-11; 103: 17-18; Isa. 50:8; 53:11). This judgment or forensic act of God is therefore both an act of righteousness and a gift of divine mercy.
Modern Bible scholars often overemphasize the benevolent aspect of God's righteousness in the OT and lose sight of the legal and punitive aspects. But God's righteous judgeship is seen in the punishment of the lawbreaker as well as in the deliverance of the justified. It is noteworthy, however, that the positive aspect of God's righteousness is more common in the OT, while the punitive aspect is more closely associated with God's wrath.
The climax of this positive aspect is found in the theme of Messiah, the one who will be a truly righteous king and will fulfill God's covenant purpose for Israel, bringing it and all nations to God's final righteousness (Ps. 72; Isa. 9:7; 11:3-5; 42:6; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:15-16; Zech. 9:9).
Jesus spoke of a false righteousness which is found in those who trust in themselves as righteous or justified because of their moral accomplishments (Matt. 23:28; Luke 16:15; 18:9), but he taught that the truly justified are those who acknowledge their sin and trust in God for forgiveness and his righteousness (Matt. 5:36; Mark 2:17; Luke 18:14).
Again the forensic understanding of righteousness is the key, and this is brought out most fully by Paul. Following the teaching of Christ, Paul explains that no one seeking to be righteous by the works of the law can be justified in God's sight, since everyone is a sinner and has fallen short of God's righteous standard (Rom. 3:9-10, 20, 23; Gal. 2:16). Therefore the righteousness of God comes as a gift which we do not merit (Rom. 3:24; 5:15-17), a gracious declaration in which God pronounces righteous the one who puts his faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 13:39; Rom. 3:22; 5:1, 18). In this declaration God forgives the sins of the justified on the basis of Christ's atoning death, so that God himself is vindicated as just in his justification of sinners (Rom. 3:25-26; 5:8-9; cf. I John 1:9; 2:2).
However, the NT makes it clear that the one who by faith is declared righteous also by faith seeks to do the deeds of righteousness and grow in righteousness by God's grace (Rom. 6:12-18; Eph. 4:24; 5:9; Phil. 1:11; Heb. 11; James 2:17-26; I Pet. 2:24; I John 2:29). By this grace God also will bring the justified into a final righteousness (Gal. 5:5; Heb. 12:23; II Pet. 3:13) at the day of Christ when God will judge the whole world (Luke 14:14; Acts 17:31; II Tim. 4:8).
Therefore, as in the OT so also in the NT, God's righteousness, which expresses itself in wrath and judgment against unrepentant sinners (II Thess. 1:5-9; Rom. 2:5-9; Rev. 19:2), triumphs through love in the form of salvation from sin for those who repent and claim God's covenant promise fulfilled in Christ.
D. W. Diehl
Elwell Evangelical Dictionary
J. A. Baird, The Justice of God in the Teaching of Jesus; H. Bavinck, The Doctrine of God; C. Brown, NIDNTT, III, 352-77; E. Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God; P. J. Achtemeier, IDB, IV, 80-99; R. Garrigou-Lagrange, God, His Existence and His Nature; A. C. Knudson, The Doctrine of God; L. Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross; J. I. Packer, Knowing God; G. Rupp, The Righteousness of God; P. Tillich, Love, Power, and Justice.
The term refers to the original moral state or condition of man prior to his fall into sin. The Scripture texts which inform the concept are Gen. 1:31; Eccles. 7:29, which speak of man as created "good" and "upright," and Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10, which speak of the renewal (in Christ) of the image of God in man in "knowledge" and "true righteousness and holiness" (cf. Rom. 8:29; II Cor. 3:18).
Roman Catholicism sees original righteousness as a donum supernaturale added to the "natural" image of God. In the fall original righteousness (by which man had supernatural communion with God) was lost, but the natural image (consisting of man's reason, freedom, and spirituality) remained relatively intact. Luther rejected this twofold distinction, and taught that original righteousness was the very essence of man's original nature or image, not a supernatural addition to it. Thus for Luther the image as a whole was lost in the fall. Calvin also rejected the Catholic natural-supernatural distinction, but had a broader view of the image than did Luther. For Calvin the loss of original righteousness in the fall meant the thorough corruption of the image but not its total loss.
Modern liberalism, influenced by evolutionary philosophy, views the Genesis narratives of man's origin as myths and finds the doctrine of original righteousness to be rather lacking in meaning. Neo-orthodox, too, rejects a literal, primitive state of righteousness in human history, but finds the concept of original righteousness still valid and important. It refers to man's "essential nature," the God-created law of man's true being (the law of love), standing in contradiction to man's sinful, existential nature (Brunner and Niebuhr). Original righteousness is that of which man is dimly aware through his self-transcendence, and from which he inevitably has fallen through wrong use of freedom. It also is that which man comes to understand most clearly through Christ.
D W Diehl
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology; D. G. Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology, I, 88-97, 103-9; E. Brunner, Man in Revolt; C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, III, 99-102; R. Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, I, 265-300; P. Schoonenberg, Man and Sin.
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